Originally not aired on ??/??/????
It’s over. Done. That’s it. Christmas has gone away and just like your Dad it’s never coming back.
Nah, that’s not true. It’ll be back next year. But your Dad won’t. I’m sorry.
Christmas this year was a weird one for me. Don’t get me wrong, when I think back to the month or so before this period, Christmas was just what I needed. I was flagging a bit back then. The nights were getting longer and so were the gaps between my mealtimes. I’d recently moved out of my mum’s flat and I’m not very good at cooking, so I was basically getting up, eating some cereal, and just hoping the hunger stayed away for the rest of the day. Also, I was super lonely.
But at Christmas time, love and food comes rushing into your life from all directions. Sure, a lot of the love and food can be too sickly sweet at times, leaving an aftertaste of resentment and cranberry sauce, but it’s needed. And overall, it’s just a pretty happy time. You see your mates and you get drunk a lot and it’s pretty sweet. Now I’m back to my loneliness and cereal, I crave it.
I miss Christmas. I miss it so much that I almost wish it didn’t happen. The New Year has got its hands around my neck and it’s asking me how I’m gonna make a difference this year whilst strangling me and I don’t know how to respond. The future seems so uncertain (especially with Brexit and that MADMAN in the Whitehouse) and I’m scared to confront it. As Craig David once put it: “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”
One person who may be able to help me with this impending sense of doom is my best friend and today’s guest Arnold T. Rice. We met several years ago on the fiercely competitive and cutthroat student stand up circuit, and despite meeting in such a bear pit, we have always been very close friends. Whereas I did a proper degree, studying Mathematics at Warwick University, Arnold studied at the University of Life, where he passed with a 2:2. Looking back, I think it was Arnold’s street smarts that first attracted me to him.
“Don’t put a fork in there, mate,” he once said to me, saving my life as I attempted to fish out a scotch pancake from the toaster. “I did a whole module on that and it turns out it’s not a good idea, Eric.”
Unfortunately, a couple of years ago Arnold was diagnosed with a rare skeletal disease that required treatment from a specialist. To afford the operation, Arnold traded in the frugal life of a stand-up comedian for wealth, becoming a fat cat social worker instead. However, despite now earning the big bucks, Arnold always insists to me that the most important thing in life is art. We constantly discuss it and Arnold is always sending me little quotes about life and art, including that one by Craig David.
My favourite thing that he’s shared with me recently comes from Antony Costa, singer from Blue and author of the seminal 20th century masterpiece Slaughterhouse 5. In a letter addressed to college graduates asking what they should do with their lives, he told them the following:
“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.”
I love that quote more than I love All Rise, honestly. And I was thinking today – and maybe I’m just emotional and this is the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes talking – that maybe I can make a difference this year through my art. Not in a pretentious way, but I just mean, if I keep writing my little jokes and doing my podcasts, then that’s something, init? A few people will enjoy it and I’ll be expressing myself. The scary future that looms won’t seem so scary, because I’ll have a way of making sense of the world, a purpose. Like Will Young once said – “He who has a why can bear almost any how.”
But then, what if that’s not enough? Because art doesn’t really create tangible results in the real world. It doesn’t stop Brexit or that MADMAN. It fulfils to an extent, but doing great art and living a great life seem like separate endeavours. Costa’s words meant a lot to me, but they didn’t prevent the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 2008 financial crisis or Westlife's 2018 comeback.
During our coffee today, I told Arnold about my doubts.
“Do you think that doing art for art’s sake is enough, Arnold?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “but my thinking has gone a bit further recently. At the moment, I’m starting to realise that life itself is art.”
“How do you mean?” I asked, wiping gingerbread latte from my lips (if life is some sort of painting, I don’t want there to be froth around my mouth).
“Well, in life, I think we concern ourselves too much with targets and goals. We worry about what we’re achieving, what it’s for. But in doing that, maybe we miss the beauty of the whole thing. If there is a creator, this is their fucking magnum opus and we’re right at the centre of it. We should embrace it all – the happy bits, the sad bits, the weird bits, EVERYTHING. There doesn’t need to be a point to it – life is like art. The best art is done for art’s sake. Maybe the best lives are lived for life’s sake.”
Despite not being an early noughties pop star, Arnold just proved himself to be as profound as anyone. That was some of the truest shit I’d ever heard spoken in my life. When I heard that, it was like a cloud was lifted. I felt free. I realised the intrinsic value in everything. Christmas may be over, the New Year and the political situation we’re in may be scary as fuck, but it doesn’t matter. Not because of art, but because it is art.
Messy, glorious, life-affirming art.
We’re all in this masterpiece together. Some of us are creating things, some of us work in business, and some of us are just sat at home wanking. But we’re all doing art. Art for art’s sake. Life for life’s sake.
Anyway, that’s the end of the Christmas series of my podcast, and as the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said – “I think I better leave right now, before I fall any deeper.”
I’ll be back soon with another series!
In the meantime, let’s all go around making great art, shall we?